The charming speakeasy below Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza is quickly becoming Columbus' worst kept secret.
“Page 166,” our hostess says as she hands us a pair of books and leads us to a wooden booth. We slide in and flip open the copies of Toni Morrison and Mark Twain to find a menu tucked into the aforementioned page. “Don't forget the secret menu,” she adds, pointing to the back of the book. Inside the back cover is a library card slipped inside a manila pocket with food and drink specials stamped on it.
That's our quirky introduction to The Light of Seven Matchsticks, an underground enclave that playfully shrouds itself in secrecy like a Prohibition-era cocktail bar. This speakeasy located below Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza & Live Music gets its name from a fictional book in the film “Moonrise Kingdom,” and if you're familiar with the lighthearted kitsch of a Wes Anderson movie set, you'll understand the vibe.
To access the bar, take the cement staircase next to the front door at Natalie's. On busy nights, you're supposed to knock and wait for entry, but on a casual Thursday evening, we pulled the door open and were welcomed to a table.
The establishment may be new, but the space feels lovingly dated. Maybe it's the small collection of old books on the shelves, maybe it's the low lighting, or maybe it's the Formica tiles underfoot, reminiscent of old elementary school floors. Another amusing quirk: If you're waiting without a table, you can order a drink by filling out an index card and slipping it through a mail slot. Bartenders will prepare your drink and hand it through a small window.
The opening pages of the cocktail menu feature house specialties—categorized under “Profound Dream State for the Adventuresome of Spirit”—that have flowery names like Exit through the Blue Light ($12) and English on a Green-Broke Horse ($12). I recommend Garlic is Better Than Seven Mothers ($10), an interesting mixture of Plymouth Gin, Suze, lemon, simple syrup, soda and a black garlic tincture. The drink varies between sweet, herbal and sour, with a bitter edge from the black garlic that appears right at the end.
The cocktail menu also includes classics like the pisco sour ($10), Old-Fashioned ($10) and Last Word ($11), as well as a respectable selection of red and white wines, three craft beers and four Rambling House sodas on tap.
Chef Matthew Alter's small food menu includes elevated bar snacks like housemade jerky and duck fat popcorn, plus hot and cold dishes and a couple sweets. The Singapore noodles ($10) provide a spicy counterpart to the garlicky Seven Mothers drink. The dish layers noodles with cabbage, snap peas, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, sprouts and cilantro; I highly suggest adding the creamy 64-degree egg for $1.50 more.
Diehard cocktail aficionados and even casual bar-goers should plan an outing to The Light of Seven Matchsticks. The creative libations and bar bites are reason enough to visit, and the underground location and kitschy décor are icing on the cake.